Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Tuesday, December 29, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
The House voted overwhelmingly Monday to increase COVID-19 relief checks to $2,000, meeting President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger payments and sending the bill to the GOP-controlled Senate, where the outcome is highly uncertain, The Associated Press reported.
We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world.
A Louisiana Congressman-elect has died from COVID-19 complications
Luke Letlow, a Republican who was elected to the House of Representatives this month to represent Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District, died Tuesday evening of complications from COVID-19, a spokesman said. He was 41.
Letlow was set to take office on Sunday. His death was confirmed by several politicians, including Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, who said in a Facebook post that the death of his friend and “former co-worker” was “a huge loss to Louisiana and America.”
Letlow died at the Ochsner-LSU Health hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana, the spokesman, Andrew Bautsch, said.
He did not have any underlying health conditions that would have increased his chances of dying from COVID-19, Dr. G.E. Ghali, a doctor at the Shreveport hospital, told The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Letlow, in a runoff earlier this month against another Republican, had been elected to succeed Rep. Ralph Abraham, whom Letlow had served as chief of staff.
Letlow is survived by his wife, Julia, and their two children, Jeremiah and Jacqueline.
Read the full story here.
COVID-19 cases on the rise among King County's homeless population
Since mid-December, 30 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus at a hotel housing more than 200 homeless people in Renton, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County.
It’s the most seen since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic at any of the hotels the county is using to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 among homeless people. The Red Lion Hotel in Renton was opened by the county to keep them out of crowded bunk-bed or mats-on-the-ground shelters where officials feared COVID-19 could spread like wildfire.
After a quiet summer with few cases and a fall with only a few isolated spikes, 226 cases — including those of employees — have been connected to King County shelters and service sites or meal programs in the last month of 2020.
Read the full story here.
Fred Hutch scientist is tracking the spread of new coronavirus variant
With the U.S. on Tuesday recording its first known case of the novel coronavirus variant that’s been sweeping across the U.K., the pressure is on to track the variant’s spread and parse out why it seems to be more contagious — and what that means for the future of the pandemic.
At the center of those efforts is a group at the Seattle-based Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center that has been cataloging and analyzing genetic changes in the virus since the pandemic began. Nexstrain, co-founded by Hutch computational biologist Trevor Bedford, is an uber-dashboard of genomics, mapping out mutations and the routes followed by every known variation of the virus so far.
Now, Bedford and the project’s far-flung team of bioinformatics experts are helping figure out how widespread the variant might already be in the U.S. and how quickly it could become dominant here, as it did in the U.K.
Read the full Q&A with Bedford here.
Washington begins vaccinating high-risk prisoners and corrections staff
The Department of Corrections began vaccinating some high-risk prisoners and prison workers this week, ranking them among the state’s first recipients of a coronavirus vaccine.
Employees and inmates in a Central Washington prison’s assisted-living ward are receiving shots, along with medical staff and long-term care inmates at a Spokane County prison with the system’s largest current outbreak.
No general-population prisoners are receiving the vaccine at this time, according to a department spokesperson. COVID-19 infections have recently soared at several state prisons.
There are 2,380 active COVID-19 cases among inmates at various facilities as of Tuesday, according to the DOC’s publicly reported data. Five incarcerated persons have died due to the virus. Over the course of the year, 790 DOC employees have had confirmed infections, with one death.
State reports 2,201 new coronavirus cases
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,201 new coronavirus cases and 174 new deaths as of Monday.
The DOH noted Tuesday that negative test results data from Nov. 21-30 are currently incomplete, and that Monday's death data includes a backlog of roughly 200 cases that were previously unreported due to a processing issue.
The update brings the state's totals to 240,846 cases and 3,369 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Monday.
In addition, 14,445 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 25 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 61,455 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,022 deaths.
On Dec. 17, The Seattle Times changed its method of reporting daily cases to be more consistent with the state’s reporting methodology, which now includes both confirmed cases and probable cases in its total count. According to DOH, probable cases refer to people who received a positive antigen test result but not a positive molecular test result, while confirmed cases refer to those who have received a positive molecular test result.
The addition of the new probable-cases category could contribute to higher daily case, hospitalization and death counts. In general, DOH’s data dashboard is limited to molecular test results and does not include antigen testing results.
The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases.
State capitols face showdown over COVID powers and spending
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — State lawmakers across the country will convene in 2021 with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic rippling through much of their work — even affecting the way they work.
After 10 months of emergency orders and restrictions from governors and local executive officials, some lawmakers are eager to reassert their power over decisions that shape the way people shop, work, worship and attend school.
They also will face virus-induced budget pressures, with rising demand for spending on public health and social services colliding with uncertain tax revenue in an economy that is still not fully recovered from the pandemic.
A December report by Moody’s Investors Service warned that states face a negative outlook for 2021 because of weak revenue and budget uncertainties caused by the pandemic. In many states, revenues aren’t likely to recover until the end of 2021 or later, Moody’s said. That could create tough financial choices for lawmakers, especially in states that have had to tap their reserves, borrow or rely on one-time revenue sources to balance their current budgets.
Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wants lawmakers to take quick action in 2021 on his proposals to spend $100 million in additional rental assistance and $100 million in additional business assistance. They are part of a broader spending plan that would be paid for by tapping into the state’s rainy day fund, then raising taxes in 2022.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic and simply have to have relief for our families,” Inslee said.
All 50 states are scheduled to hold regular legislative sessions in 2021. In many, it will mark their first meeting since the November elections in which Republicans again secured statehouse supremacy.
Trump’s $2,000 checks stall in Senate as GOP blocks vote
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s push for bigger $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks stalled out Tuesday in the Senate as Republicans blocked a swift vote proposed by Democrats and split within their own ranks over whether to boost spending or defy the White House.
The roadblock mounted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not be sustainable as pressure mounts. Trump wants the Republican-led chamber to follow the House and increase the checks from $600 for millions of Americans. A growing number of Republicans, including two senators in runoff elections on Jan. 5 in Georgia, have said they will support the larger amount. But most GOP senators oppose more spending, even if they are also wary of bucking Trump.
Senators will be back at it Wednesday as McConnell is devising a way out of the political bind, but the outcome is highly uncertain.
“There’s one question left today: Do Senate Republicans join with the rest of America in supporting $2,000 checks?” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said as he made a motion to vote.
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said some of the $600 payments might be sent by direct deposit to Americans’ bank accounts as early as Tuesday night. Mnuchin tweeted that paper checks will begin to go out Wednesday.
The showdown has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session just days before new lawmakers are set to be sworn into office for the new year. It’s preventing action on another priority — overturning Trump’s veto on a sweeping defense bill that has been approved every year for 60 years.
First reported US case of COVID-19 variant found in Colorado
DENVER (AP) — The first reported U.S. case of the COVID-19 variant that’s been seen in the United Kingdom has been discovered in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday.
The coronavirus variant was found in a man in his 20s who is in isolation southeast of Denver and has no travel history, state health officials said.
The Colorado State Laboratory confirmed the virus variant, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was notified.
Scientists in the U.K. believe the new virus variant is more contagious than previously identified strains of the SARS-CoV-2. The vaccines being given now are thought to be effective against the variant, Colorado health officials said in a news release.
Public health officials are investigating other potential cases and performing contract tracing to determine the spread of the variant throughout the state.
“There is a lot we don’t know about this new COVID-19 variant, but scientists in the United Kingdom are warning the world that it is significantly more contagious. The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority, and we will closely monitor this case, as well as all COVID-19 indicators, very closely,” Polis said.
Polis and state health officials are expected to address the public Wednesday.
The discovery of the new variant lead the CDC to issue new rules on Christmas Day for travelers arriving to the U.S. from the U.K., requiring they show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
Montana’s local officials strive to convince citizens of COVID-19 dangers
Nine months into the pandemic that has killed more than 320,000 people in the U.S., Kim Larson is still trying to convince others in her northern Montana county that COVID-19 is dangerous.
As Hill County Health Department director and county health officer, Larson continues to hear people say the coronavirus is just like a bad case of the flu. Around the time Montana’s governor mandated face coverings in July, her staffers saw notices taped in several businesses’ windows spurning the state’s right to issue such emergency orders.
For a while, the county with a population of 16,000 along the Canadian border didn’t see much evidence of the pandemic. It had only one known COVID-19 case until July. But that changed as the nation moved into its third surge of the virus this fall. By mid-December, Hill County had recorded more than 1,500 cases — the vast majority since Oct. 1 — and 33 people there had died.
When Larson hears people say pandemic safety rules should end, she talks about how contagious the COVID-19 virus is, how some people experience lasting effects and how hospitals are so full that care for any ailment could face delays.
Public health laws typically come long after social norms shift, affirming a widespread acceptance that a change in habits is worth the public good and that it’s time for stragglers to fall in line. But even when decades of evidence show a rule can save lives — such as wearing seat belts or not smoking indoors — the debate continues in some places with the familiar argument that public restraints violate personal freedoms. This fast-moving pandemic, however, doesn’t afford society the luxury of time. State mandates have put local officials in charge of changing behavior while general understanding catches up.
Biden criticizes pace of vaccine rollout, vows to accelerate
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden criticized the Trump administration Tuesday for the pace of distributing COVID-19 vaccines, saying it is “falling far behind.”
Biden said “it’s gonna take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people” at the current pace.
He vowed to ramp up the current speed of vaccinations five to six times to 1 million shots a day, but acknowledged it “will still take months to have the majority of Americans vaccinated.”
The president-elect, who takes office Jan. 20, said he has directed his team to prepare a “much more aggressive effort to get things back on track.”
A pandemic atlas: How COVID-19 took over the world in 2020
The virus that first emerged a year ago in Wuhan, China, swept across the world in 2020, leaving havoc in its wake. More than any event in memory, the pandemic has been a global event. On every continent, households have felt its devastation — joblessness and lockdowns, infirmity and death. And an abiding, relentless fear.
But each nation has its own story of how it coped. How China used its authoritarian muscle to stamp out the coronavirus. How Brazil struggled with the pandemic even as its president scoffed at it. How Israel’s ultra-Orthodox flouted measures to stem the spread of the disease, intensifying the rift between them and their more-secular neighbors.
Spain witnessed the deaths of thousands of elders. Kenyans watched as schools closed and children went to work, some as prostitutes. India’s draconian lockdown brought the rate of infection down — but only temporarily, and at a horrific cost.
At year’s end, promising vaccines offered a glimmer of hope amid a cresting second wave of contagion.
“The winter will be difficult, four long difficult months,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel, as she announced new restrictions on life in Germany. “But it will end.”
On the cusp of year two of the contagion, The Associated Press assessed how countries around the world have weathered the pandemic.
Measuring viral load in COVID-19 patients could predict who gets the sickest
As COVID-19 patients flood into hospitals nationwide, doctors are facing an impossible question. Which patients in the ER are more likely to deteriorate quickly, and which are most likely to fight off the virus and to recover?
As it turns out, there may be a way to help distinguish these two groups, although it is not yet widely employed. Dozens of research papers published over the past few months found that people whose bodies were teeming with the coronavirus more often became seriously ill and more likely to die, compared with those who carried much less virus and were more likely to emerge relatively unscathed.
The results suggest that knowing the so-called viral load — the amount of virus in the body — could help doctors predict a patient’s course, distinguishing those who may need an oxygen check just once a day, for example, from those who need to be monitored more closely, said Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious disease physician at Columbia University in New York.
‘Like a bathtub filling up’: Alabama is slammed by the virus
With its dozen intensive care beds already full, Cullman Regional Medical Center in Alabama began looking desperately for options as more and more COVID-19 patients showed up.
Ten beds normally used for less severe cases were transformed into intensive care rooms, with extra IV machines brought in. Video monitors were set up to enable the staff to keep watch over patients whenever a nurse had to scurry away to care for someone else.
“We’re kind of like a bathtub that’s filling up with water and the drain is blocked,” the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. William Smith, said last week.
Alabama, long one of the unhealthiest and most impoverished states in America, has emerged as one of the nation’s most alarming coronavirus hot spots.
Its hospitals are in crisis as the virus rages out of control in a region with high rates of obesity, high blood pressure and other conditions that can make COVID-19 even more dangerous, where access to health care was limited even before the outbreak, and where public resistance to masks and other precautions is stubborn.
UK hospitals struggle; tougher rules eyed to fight variant
British officials are considering tougher coronavirus restrictions as the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients surpasses the first peak of the outbreak in the spring.
Authorities are blaming a new, more transmissible variant of the virus, first identified in southeast England, for the soaring infection rates.
England had 20,426 coronavirus patients in hospitals as of Monday morning — the last day for which figures are available — compared to its previous high of 18,974 on April 12. Britain has recorded more than 71,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths, the second-highest death toll in Europe after Italy.
Prepare for deadlier pandemics, says WHO; this one may be just the 'wake up call'
The coronavirus pandemic might not be the “big one” that experts have long feared, a World Health Organization official warned Tuesday during the global health agency’s last virtual media briefing of the year.
Since the first reports of the novel coronavirus began circulating nearly a year ago, the WHO has repeatedly warned that the world must prepare for even deadlier pandemics in the future.
“This pandemic has been very severe,” WHO emergencies chief Mark Ryan said. “It has affected every corner of this planet. But this is not necessarily the big one.”
The coronavirus, he said, should serve as a “wake-up call.”
Russia’s updated stats on virus-linked deaths show increase
Russia’s updated statistics on coronavirus-linked deaths show that well over 100,000 people with COVID-19 had died in the pandemic by December, a number much higher than previously reported by government officials.
The data released Monday by Russia’s state statistics agency, Rosstat, brought the agency’s count of people with COVID-19 who died between April and November to 116,030.
Russia has been swept by a rapid resurgence of infections since September, with numbers of confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths significantly exceeding those reported in the spring.
Belarus, Argentina start vaccinations with Russian shots
Belarus and Argentina launched mass coronavirus vaccinations with the Russian-developed Sputnik V shot on Tuesday, becoming the first countries outside Russia to roll out the vaccine, which has faced criticism over the speed with which it was approved.
The first batch of Sputnik V arrived in the former Soviet republic of Belarus on Tuesday, according to a joint statement by the Belarusian Health Ministry, the Russian Health Ministry and the Russian Direct Investment Fund that bankrolled development of the jab.
Hours later, a similar campaign kicked off in South America as Argentine medical workers began receiving the vaccine and officials insisted it was safe. President Alberto Fernández called it the largest vaccination campaign in the country’s modern history.
US begins vaccinating its troops in South Korea
The United States has started vaccinating its troops based in South Korea, as its Asian ally reported its highest daily COVID-19 fatalities amid surging cases in the country.
The United States Forces Korea said it started inoculating military and civilian health-care workers, first responders and the USFK command team with the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday.
Biden to address nation on pandemic
President-elect Joe Biden plans to deliver an address on the coronavirus pandemic as the nation experiences what his chief medical adviser on the issue, Anthony Fauci, described Tuesday as a surge in cases “that has just gotten out of control in many respects.”
Biden’s remarks, planned Tuesday afternoon in Wilmington, Del., are expected to be his most extensive since early this month, when he laid out a plan for his first 100 days in office that included imploring all Americans to wear masks.
Fauci, appearing on CNN on Tuesday morning, said vaccines would not reach Americans as quickly as hoped and lamented what he expects to be a post-holiday increase in cases and the strong possibility than January’s caseload will exceed even that of December.
Canada is turning asylum seekers away at the border. In the U.S., they face deportation
Like thousands of others who have sought asylum in Canada in recent years, Apollinaire Nduwimana entered the country at Roxham Road, an unofficial border crossing between New York and Quebec.
But in this year of the coronavirus, the Burundian man was barred from making a claim. Instead, Canadian border guards turned him back to the United States, where he was arrested and detained with a final order of removal.
When the United States and Canada agreed in March to close their border to asylum seekers at unauthorized entry points, Canadian officials said they had received assurances from their U.S. counterparts that the asylum seekers they turned back wouldn’t be deported.
Now at least one has been. At least eight others, including Nduwimana, are being held at a federal detention facility in Batavia, N.Y., many with final removal orders. One of them, a Ghanaian man, was pulled off a plane this month, avoiding deportation only after a lawyer obtained a temporary stay of removal.
Ottawa is stepping in — kind of.
Wuhan’s COVID cases may have been 10 times higher than reported, study shows
The scale of the covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan early this year may have been nearly 10 times the recorded tally, a study conducted by China’s public health authorities indicates, leaving the city where the coronavirus first took hold still well short of the immunity required to protect against a potential resurgence.
About 4.4% of those tested were found to have specific antibodies that can fight off the pathogen that causes covid-19, indicating they were infected some time in the past, according to a serological survey of more than 34,000 people conducted in April by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The data was released late Monday.
That ratio would suggest that with Wuhan home to about 11 million people, as many as 500,000 residents may have been infected, nearly 10 times more than the 50,000 confirmed covid-19 cases reported by health authorities in mid-April, when the survey was conducted.
. The U.S. has raised questions about China’s accounting of the virus fallout in Wuhan, which was quickly eclipsed by larger outbreaks in Europe and North America. A number of revisions of the case and deaths data added to suspicions China was massaging the numbers.
• “Undercover Billionaire” in Tacoma: The Discovery Channel show sent a music mogul our way to build a million-dollar business out of $100.
• Books to get excited about: Our critic describes 20 of the most eagerly awaited books in 2021.
• The perfect get-out-the-house mood lifter: This Eastside trail run is rejuvenating even in the rain.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
• A federal $600 stimulus payment could hit your bank account as soon as tomorrow, but those who need aid the most may not get all of it quickly. President Donald Trump's push to boost the payout to $2,000 hangs in the balance in the Senate today, forcing Republicans into a difficult choice. (Follow that developing story here.) What changed Trump's mind after he refused for days to sign the stimulus bill? "A very intense Christmas Day" on the golf course.
• "What I feel now is a new life." More than 300 days after Life Care Center of Kirkland hit the headlines as the original epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, a nurse who first noticed the signs of trouble got a vaccine yesterday. With a huge U.S. study starting today for yet another vaccine, here's a look at the top options, including a possible one-dose shot.
• A small number of COVID-19 patients who had never experienced mental health problems are developing severe psychotic symptoms weeks after contracting the virus — symptoms like a voice telling a mother to kill her children.
• California is expected to extend strict stay-home orders today after its governor warned residents to brace for a surge … on top of a surge … on top of another surge.
• The pandemic is killing people with diabetes or Alzheimer’s who didn’t even contract the virus, an analysis of federal data shows. Doctors and researchers explain how this is happening.
• A Massachusetts Republican leader posed for a maskless photo at a White House party that his wife urged him to skip. Three days later, he was rushed to the hospital. He says he's still "paying the price."
• The doctor buckles “all the hopes and dreams” into the passenger seat of his pickup truck and sets off. The precious cargo: a blue cooler packed with vaccine doses. On the snowy roads of rural Michigan, Richard Bates is driving, and driving, and driving.
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